2015-08-27

Exploring the Links between Beliefs and Behaviour

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by Neil Godfrey

Recent discussions here arising from responses to Dan Jones’ article, “On how to be completely wrong about radicalisation: the curious case of Jerry Coyne” and another post Who are the true Muslims in these scenarios? I have been spurred into fast tracking and updating reading on the psychology of religious belief, extremism, ISIS in particular, terrorism more generally, and the background articles to the current exchange between Coyne, Maarten Boudry and Neil Van Leeuwen as well as refreshing old reading that had become a little faded over recent years. It’s a most interesting little exercise. Here is one small snippet that I choose to post here for no reason other than it is easy to copy and makes sense apart from its larger context.

Opinions and attitudes are not always good predictors of action. Of all those who might say they want to help starving children, how many would actually donate to UNICEF or work in a local soup kitchen? But for the Russian students of the 1870s, radicalization in opinion was often associated with radicalization in action. How are we to understand this unusually high consistency between opinion and behavior?

McCauley, Clark; Moskalenko, Sophia (2011-02-02). Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us (Kindle Locations 2217-2219). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

One answer is offered:

Social psychologist Robert Abelson advanced a similar perspective in relation to student activism in the United States. Abelson reviewed evidence that beliefs are not automatically translated into feelings, and feelings are not automatically translated into behavior. He then identified three kinds of encouragement for acting on beliefs: seeing a model perform the behavior; seeing oneself as a “doer,” the kind of person who translates feelings into action; and unusual emotional investment that overcomes uncertainties about what to do and fear of looking foolish. Abelson brought these ideas to focus on 1970s student activism in the United States:

. . . it is interesting to note that certain forms of activism, for example, campus activism, combine all three of the above types of encouragement cues. Typically, the campus activist has at least a vague ideology that pictures the student as aggrieved, and provides both social support and self-images as doers to the participants in the group. A great deal of the zest and excitement accompanying the activities of student radicals, whether or not such activities are misplaced, thus may be due to the satisfaction provided the participants in uniting a set of attitudes with a set of behaviors.3

McCauley, Clark; Moskalenko, Sophia (2011-02-02). Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us (Kindle Locations 2222-2231). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

That led me to find Abelsons’ chapter online. It’s an early chapter in Attitudes, Conflict, and Social Change, ed by King and McGinnies (see bookzz). Obviously such statements need unpacking and Abelson’s chapter is indeed only an introduction. That’s the sort of question I hope to delve further into in the coming weeks.

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2 Comments

  • Mark Erickson
    2016-05-29 02:53:57 GMT+0000 - 02:53 | Permalink

    Worthy read on a new concept “extreme overvalued belief”. There is a paper linked. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2016/05/25/how-extreme-beliefs-not-mental-illness-often-fuel-mass-shooters/

  • Pingback: New Atheism, Tribalism and Ignorance of How Religion and Humans Work |

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